Don’t Waste Good Goals With Poor Measures

January 17, 2017 by Stacey Barr

Do you believe that strategy is about projects and initiatives, so you don’t need to measure your goals? Do you monitor your actions, because if they’re completed, that means your goals are achieved? Do you rely on Staff Turnover Rate to assess how engaged your workforce is? If so, you’re wasting your goals!

A clear, concise, actionable and well cascaded strategy has little chance of being executed without good measures for the goals that comprise that strategy. Without good measures, the strategy can’t be tested and tuned as it’s executed, and so it’s intended results or outcomes are left up to guesswork.

There are a few clues that your goals aren’t measured well enough. And a few solutions to find better measures that will dramatically increase the chances those goals are achieved.

There are no measures (just actions).

A local council has a strategic plan that contains dozens of specific goals, strategies, actions and outcomes for a total of 7 strategic themes. Just one of their themes, Natural Environment, has 3 goals, with 9 strategies and 25 actions. And despite the fact they describe the outcomes intended for each strategy, there are no measures at all to evidence whether, or how well, these outcomes are achieved as the plan is executed.

Without any measures at all, you’re flying blind. The execution of your strategy will be up to dumb luck. Everyone (you included) will more likely focus on the initiatives and actions to achieve the goals, and assume that when the action is done, the strategy is achieved.

Wrong. All endeavours to change something – and change is what strategy is for – needs feedback to be sure that what we chose to do is making the change we intended. Don’t assume.

The measures aren’t real measures (they’re non-measures).

Do you have any of the following so-called ‘measures’ for your goals?

  • Milestones, like ‘Feasibility studies by management’ and ‘All staff trained in safety requirements’
  • Vague statements, like ‘Customer experience’ and ‘increased value for money’
  • Actions, like ‘Train employees’ and ‘Conduct staff survey’

A cancer research organisation has a strategic goal to “To continue to be one of the best cancer research centres in the world.” And one of the ways they claim they’ll measure their success is “Through our long term achievements”. That’s way too vague to be a real measure.

If you have any of the above non-measures, then you don’t have real measures. These non-measures, listed above, will waste your time and not give you any useful information to guide how you implement your strategic initiatives and actions.

The measures monitor something other than the goals.

A blood service has a goal to reduce waste of blood products across the supply chain. And their measure of this goal is the proportion of hospitals that have adopted the national inventory management framework. They are measuring an input to their goal, and not the actually goal itself; they are not directly measuring the amount of waste.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of measuring the drivers of a goal and not the goal itself. Of course, it’s important to measure both. But the most meaningful driver measures can be chosen only after the meaningful goal measures are chosen.

What should it look like, then?

The South Australian government in Australia measures its strategy, and with real measures that directly relate to their goals (they have targets for each measure, too). Here are some good examples from their currently published strategic plan:

  • Goal: Everyone can afford to rent or buy a home.
    Measure: Proportion of homes sold or built that are affordable by low and moderate income households.
  • Goal: All South Australians have job opportunities.
    Measures: Employment rate, proportion of older South Australians who are engaged in the workforce, number of people with a disability employed in South Australia, the gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal unemployment rates, proportion of the public sector employees that are women, proportion of the public sector employees that are Aboriginal.
  • Goal: We overcome distance by using digital technology.
    Measures: Proportion of South Australian premises with access to broadband services delivered by fibre technology, proportion of businesses that receive orders online.

It’s very hard to master performance measurement, but it’s never going to happen at all if you don’t aim for those three important things:

  1. measure your goals,
  2. use real measures, and
  3. measure your goals directly, not indirectly.

DISCUSSION:

Are you measuring your strategy’s goals? Are they real measures? Are they measuring the goals directly?

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